For all those pundits who predicted this could be the most balanced and unpredictable college basketball season since John Wooden began UCLA's domination of the sport in 1964, the past week was one to cherish.
It began with undefeated San Francisco ranked No. 1, undefeated Cincinnati No. 2 undefeated Alabama No. 3 and once-beaten North Carolina No. 4 in the weekly Associated Press poll.
By the time it ended, San Francisco had lost an exhibition game to Athletes in Action. Cincinnati had lost twice and Alabama and North Carolina once each. For extra icing on the upset cake, No. 13 Maryland fell twice and No. 6 Kentucky and No. 8 Marquette survived two-point victories.
The results will bring another scrambling of the ratings. The true Top 10 teams may not be discerned until late in February, when regular-season surprises finally terminate.
It certainly is proving dangerous to be ranked in the top five, as Michigan, Marquette, Alabama, Cincinnati, North Carolina. UCLA and Kentucky have discovered.
This week, the revised best five probably will be San Francisco, Michigan, Kentucky, Nevada-Las Vegas and North Carolina, so watch for one of those schools to lose quickly.
It isn't the fault of pollsters that they can't seem to correctly rank the nation's outstanding clubs. They are so many out there, all 14 or 15 of them, that it's hard to narrow down such a large crowd to a compact few, especially when they keep on beating each other.
At this halfway point of the season everyone from San Francisco and Michigan to Wake Forest and Louisville appears capable of challenging for the national title. With the only potentially dominant player in the country, Kent Benson, playing for a noncontender, not one of the college strongboys has any extra edge to pull away from the pack.
San Francisco will stay on top as long as they stay unbeaten. The rap on them currently is that they haven't played enough tough opponents and face few challenges until visiting Notre Dame, March 1.
Among San Francisco's talented victims have been Tennessee (without Bernard King), Houston, St. John's, Oral Roberts and Pepperdine. Only Tennessee is ranked, but the Vols didn't find themselves until January, and have won 11 straight games.
For San Francisco to avoid losing this long is an accomplishment worth rewarding with No. 1 ranking. With so many teams playing with so many quality players, it is all but impossibly not to stumble along the way.
Ask Alabama and Cincinnati, the latest to fall from the unbeaten list.
Both stumbled on enemy courts in leagues much tougher than San Francisco's West Coast Athletic Conference. Cincinnati, not playing well lately, was a likely candidate for defeat at Louisville, but the Bearcats followed that loss with a lackluster performance Saturday against an average Tulane outfit.
Things may get straightened out fast for coach Gale Catlett's bunch. Six-foot-10 Pat Cummings, who was second on the team in rebounding last year but has been out all of this season with an injury, is expected to begin practicing today. With Cummings in the lineup, Catlett, never one for understatement, says his team is unbeatable.
Alabama simply was beaten by a better team, at least on Saturday night. Tennessee played with all the confidence 57 per cent shooting and an enthusiastic crowd can give players. The result was a romp over the Tide.
Tennessee is in command in the tight Southeastern Conference scramble, having already beaten both top challengers, Kentucky (in Lexington) and Alabama. It will be unfortunate that one of these three excellent squads will not receive an NCAA tournament bid at season's end.
Another perplexed man today must be North Carolina's Dean Smith. His highly regarded Tar Heels are not rebounding well, their bench is shaky and his usually infallible coaching probably cost his team a victory over North Carolina State on Wednesday.
Smith, who characteristically goes to his four-corner offense on the road if he is leading midway through the last half (as he did against Maryland Saturday), ignored that tactic against State, despite holding a nine-point lead with 12 minutes left. He admitted thinking of making the switch after the margin dwindled to five points but didn't, probably because Walter Davis, his second-best ball-handler, had fouled out.
The Tar Heels, playing their regular offense, lost their poise, and then the game to the improving Wolfpack. Smith probably would like a replay of that one.
American and George Washington have home games tonight. The Eagles, who routed King's Saturday, take on Loyola (Baltimore) at Ft. Myer and Brandeis visits George Washington. Both games start at 8 o'clock.
Maryland travels to North Carolina State Thursday before meeting GW Saturday in Cole Field House. Georgetown, still in search of consistency, entertains St. Joseph's Wednesday before playing AU at Ft. Myer on Saturday.
Nationally, some of the more important games find Wake Forest at North Carolina on Wednesday, Kentucky at Alabama on Saturday and UCLA against Tennessee in Atlanta on Sunday. North Carolina travels to Clemson on Saturday. At home, the Tigers are especially troublesome.